6m / 50MHz - the MAGIC band!
The 2012 Sporadic E season is under way now - there have been some openings from the UK to FR (Reunion Isl), 3B8 (Mauritius), ST2 (Sudan) and J2 (Djibouti) and even the West Coast of North America (W7/VE7) however I was not fortunate enough to hear them. I have managed to get some good stations in the log though, such as Svalbard, Jan Mayen Island, Iceland, Canada, East Coast USA and Puerto Rico. I missed out on 2 weeks of the Es season due to vacation, but since I have been back I am doing my best to play catch up!
This year (2012) I have a new weapon in my armoury for the Sporadic E season - a VHF/Band 2 tuner (A Kenwood ST-S311 with modified filters (150kHz and 110kHz as opposed to the usual 250kHz/180kHz) and that is attached to my vertical 5 element Band 2 yagi in the attic (fixed heading, roughly SE from here, which points straight at Italy). 15th May was the first time I was able to get on seriously this season and I heard some Italians and Spanish on Band 2, one was strong enough to trip the RDS, which was very handy for ID purposes! Also, earlier the same day, I heard my first ever signals on 4m (70MHz) - a local, a local beacon and a Romanian (YO2 area). All I was using was my Yupiteru scanner attached to the FM band yagi, so hardly ideal for that band. I was very pleased, and more than a little surprised to log the YO2!
My hi-light from 2k10 season: 9 June 2010 - 6m opens Eu/UK to Japan!
For the better equipped stations in Europe and the UK a few Japanese stations were worked, for me I just about heard the strongest one (and that was a very scratchy, marginal copy - the odd letter here and there - so yes I did hear Japan but in all honesty it would not been enough to identify the station had I not known (I could hear the station he was working, so knew it was the JA responding). I am hoping that I will hear a stronger one that I can record this season, but I am astonished by the propagation that 6m is producing at the moment - and this is not even F-layer propagation, we need to wait another year or 2 for that to happen, then the world will open up (so I am lead to believe!).
First, a little background about how I got into 6m:
I didn’t get into 6m that early, in fact it took me several years after it was released as a band in the UK. I did, however, have an existing interest in VHF which made me interested in the band, although I didn’t get the equipment to operate the band until the late 1990’s. Prior to this (in the 1980’s) I had a keen interest in DXTV and used a 5 element band 1 yagi (slightly larger than a 5m 5 ele yagi) to great success during the annual SpE seasons. I logged pictures from all over Europe and into Russia. There were probably many other countries too. I would certainly like a 5 element yagi now. Back in those days I also had access to a powerful 2m and 70cm station (my step fathers shack, at the same QTH) - there were 4 x 17 element yagi’s for 2m and 4 x 21 elements for 70cm, with 400w amplifiers for each band. I have a very faded Polaroid picture of the antennas, which I will attempt to scan in. My first real experience with 6m came one June day in the late ‘90’s when I decided to build a home brew antenna for the band, having just purchased a shiny new Alinco DX-70 HF/6m radio. I measured out a quarter wave length of wire and attached it to the centre of the coax forgetting it was attached to the rig. As soon as I connected it I heard an EA beacon (by pure fluke I was tuned to a beacon frequency), I nearly fell off my chair as I was holding a length of hook up wire in my hand, with most of it draped on the floor listening to a beacon in Spain on 6m! That did it, I was hooked!! Fast forward a number of years and here we are now, with over 100 countries under my belt and still just as hooked on the magic band.
My 6m equipment:
The main 6m radio is the Icom IC-756pro (mk1), which gives 100w on 6m and IF DSP on receive. I usually run the 756pro with both pre-amps on and the antenna feeds into the MFJ1026 phaser which also adds a few dB to the signal, but more importantly allows me to remove some of the local noise that plagues most of us. Even with all that running, I have a backgrund noise level of between s0 and s2 (although that can rise to s4-5 when all the local neighbourhood tv’s/pc’s/consoles etc are running. With careful twiddling of the MFJ, I can reduce this back down to s1-2. This is a pretty good background noise level and does allow me to hear some pretty weak stations. For the main 6m antenna I am using a ‘full sloper’. that is a half wave dipole that slopes at about 45 degrees from one end to the other, as opposed to an inverted Vee where the centre is high and both legs fall away at 45 degrees. The top of my sloper is at about 9.0m and the direction of slope is roughly towards the East. The slope angle is actually pretty close to the ideal 45 degrees, although the picture below does not give that impression! Also the feeder comes away at about 90 degrees, which is also near to the original sloper design. This means that it should favour signals from that direction, but will not be as responsive to signals from the West (which means that I may lose signals from the USA). The sloper is less noisy than the OCF and is also showing stronger signals, although, rather bizarrely, some signals have actually been stronger on the HF antenna which must be due to the directional nature of the dipole. Below is an image of the sloper. The job to do is to move the choke closer to the feedpoint (it is quite a way down the feeder). This is an air cored choke consisting of 4 turns with a diameter of roughly 2.5 inches. This should be slightly larger but it seems to work. When the antennas come down next I will make the adjustment.
My equipment for DXing above 50MHz:
I have just acquired a Yupiteru MVT-7100 scanner that covers from MW right through to 1600MHz in all modes and the 6m sloper works very well with this scanner. I can monitor the 6m band, SW broadcast, the HF, VHF and UHF ham bands and FM broadcast amongst others . What this gives me is an early warning system for Sporadic E events, I can monitor known beacons/stations and be ready to move to 6m as soon as they become audible. Also, for the first time I can monitor the 4m (70MHz) band and the East European/Russian OIRT broadcast band that runs from about 65MHz upwards, plus of course the 2m ham band on SSB.
Another recent purchase has been a Sony ST-S311 hi-fi tuner for FM band dx-ing (last year it was an ST-S370 tuner which was not as effective). I have modified this by replacing the standard IF filters with 3 x 150kHz ceramic filters in the ‘wide’ setting and 1 x 110kHz in the ‘narrow’ setting. All these filters are made by Murata and make a very big difference to the amount of adjacent channel splatter heard. So far I have heard SpE signals on Band II FM from Portugal, Spain and some East Europeans although, to be fair, I am usually on 6m during these openings so I don’t often listen up that high! The antenna is a 5 element Yagi in the attic, vertically polarised, and beaming South East, towards Italy. Made a massive difference to the rather crude ‘turnstile’ that I had last season.
My 6m antenna:
I heard a lot of stations on 6m during the season, with a good number of all time new DXCC, which takes my total to over 100 - DXCC on 6m at last!!
The new ones which took me to the DXCC were: ST2 (Sudan), TR8 (Gabon), A71 (Oman) and SV5 (Rhodes). I was surprised by how strong the ST2 was at one point, although it took a fair amount of waiting before I actually heard him. I watched the DX cluster for spots from G stations and then tuned on to his frequency and monitored - and while I tuned elsewhere I checked back every couple of minutes. Eventually I was rewarded with a signal, which remained audible for over an hour. The A7 was very weak, I did record it (as I did with the ST2) but I have yet to check it to see if it is audible on the recording! I am hoping this season will be a good one as I missed out last year and the year before due to defective/inefficient antennas. The openings seem to be very long at the moment, yesterdays opening was going before I got up and was still going after went to bed! It certainly seems to have got off to a good start. These long openings enabled me to log 44 DXCC in 3 days (which is more than I have logged in some whole years!) and now, barely a month in to the season and I have 64 DXCC in the log (this is including the JA mentioned above, although some would say that it doesn’t count as I didn’t hear the callsign etc. - well as I am not applying for any awards or contests it doesn’t matter, I know I heard it and that is what matters to me ;-)The final year total for 2010 on 6m was 70 DXCC in 252 grid squares.
2011 summary (so far):
The SpE season got off to a slow start but picked up pace in June and there have been some good openings. I managed to hear the station of PJ6D on the Caribbean island of Saba with good signals, and a weak copy of N3DB. Other UK stations did much better with the USA stations but the majority of those are running multi element beams (or even multiple beams) as opposed to my single element sloper. Also heard have been, amongst others: Bahrain, Israel, Turkey, Morocco, Canary Isl and Iceland.
USA on 6m:
Looking back through my log, I have logged the USA 92 times on 6m (I have only logged a station once per mode per year) with the furthest West being Western Texas - the best year, by far, was 2006. I have logged the USA on 6m in 2001, 02, 03, 06, 07, 2010 and 2011. In the next 3 or 4 years, there should be some F2 propagation which will, I hope, open up the more Westerly reaches of the USA and further afield. I really need Australasia/Oceania on 6m to complete my WAC!
The year totals so far for 2011 are 49 DXCC in 191 grid squares, which is pleasing. Hopefully there will be some further additions to this score before the season ends.
How to ‘predict’ a Sporadic E opening:
Well you can’t actually predict a sporadic E opening but you can anticipate when a possible opening may occur as there are certain tell tale signs to look out for:
Because of it’s nature sporadic E (Es as it’s commonly known) is just that, sporadic! It can pop up at any time but there are warning signs to a possible opening. If you know what these are, you can be prepared, rather than being caught ‘on the hop’. The exact science of Sporadic E is still not fully understood, but it appears to be related to high altitude wind shear creating areas of intense ionization. I have found that SpE has a habit of being around when thunderstorms are in the locality - why this should be I don’t know but it happens quite a bit in the summer. The link between thunderstorms and SpE has been dispelled, but I’m not so sure (maybe the ‘supercell’ thunderstorms create enough high altitude air/friction (and also voltage polarity movement) to cause this shearing effect - I’m not a meteorologist so this is just speculation on my part!
It’s always worth checking 6m (50MHz), 4m (70MHz) (if you have the capability/license) and 2m (144MHz) during May, June and July (April, August and September do produce Sporadic E, but not as often as May, June and July). If possible monitor the DX cluster for reports, also monitor 15, 12 and 10m for short skip stations from a few 100km. If you begin to hear those and they are strong, the chances are 6m will open up soon. If the signals on 6m become very strong and the distance, try 4m (70MHz) (if you have it). Also keep an FM radio to hand to check the progress of the MUF. If you start hearing strong foreign stations on the high end of the FM band (100MHz or above), then it’s time to warm up the 2m rig. Also use the real time web-based monitoring systems, such as DX-Sherlock, which can be found at www.vhfdx.info. This shows real time activity on any of teh VHF.UHF bands by collating data from DX and web clusters. Also on that site is a real time MUF map which plots the predicted MUF based on real data which is then computed by mathematical models. If you see MUF’s of 50MHz, or higher, over the middle of France (for example) or similar distance (500-1000km or so), there is a very good chance that signals will be heard on 6m. Keep your ear out for G stations working Europeans, if you can’t hear any don’t worry as there is a good chance that the cloud may come within your range at some point. It is not unusual to hear a local station to you working very strong stations you cannot hear, this is part of the fun (and frustration) of Sporadic E propagation.
If you have a beam, start off with it pointing South East, as that is where the majority of Sporadic E comes from. Sporadic E tends to be very localized and a station just a few miles away may receive something at s9, whereas you cannot hear a thing! Sometimes the reverse is true of course, so stick with it and your turn will come. High power is not necessary, just a few watts and a simple antenna will get you contacts. A horizontal beam is preferred for the longer distance stations, but not always necessary.
Be prepared for short snappy QSO’s, particularly on 2m where the openings are much shorter than 6m (only a matter of a few minutes to perhaps an hour or two, where 6m can be open most of the day and into the night). A typical Sporadic E QSO consists of callsign, report and QTH locator (sometimes known as QRA locator). You may find that on occasion names and brief equipment details are passed, but usually the operators are trying to work as many stations as possible in the opening and you won’t make too many friends by passing on your life history during a Sporadic E opening!!
Using a vertical antenna for this type of DXing (although the real 6m operators wouldn’t class these signals as DX!) is that signals can be heard from all round the compass. The disadvantage is that you can end up with multiple signals on the same frequency at the same strength. I think the best combination would be a vertical for general ‘sniffing around’ and a beam for ‘homing in’ on a weak signal. A 5/8th wave vertical mounted at around 10m or more and in the clear will work very well and is not too big at under 4m long. A 3 to 5 element beam mounted about 3m below the vertical will give a good account of itself, giving you upto about 6dB gain (or more if you believe the manufacturers!) over a dipole. 10w into the beam will give you an erp (effective radiated power) of 40w, which is a useful amount of power on this band. Run 25w and you get an erp of 100w (the equivalent of feeding 100w into a half wave dipole). Even with the vertical you will get an erp of 20w for your 10w input — ideal for foundation licensees (come on you M3/M6’s!!). For sporadic E these power levels are more than enough, it’s amazing the signal levels that can be heard when the band is open.
An interesting twist this year has been the extended openings to North America and the Caribbean, presumably by some kind of E-layer propagation. These openings on occasion have been hours long and stations in the UK have reported s9 signals for hours on end from all manner of exotic DX. For me, the signals haven’t been that strong, but certainly strong enough to record. Between 0700 and 1000 on some days even better DX had been worked, namely Japan! I’ve not been lucky enough to hear one of these yet but I am hopeful that I will soon. It’s this kind of DX that makes 6m such an intriguing band and why it has such ardent followers. I for one have been ‘living’ on 6m this year, and have enjoyed the DX but much the same as our British weather you can never tell what tomorrow will bring, maybe a new country or maybe the band will be closed.
To see your signal meter stay over ‘s9’ for extended periods is pretty common and some of these stations are running low power and simple antennas (like 5w from a mobile into a whip on the roof of a car—one of those was on from Italy yesterday and was as strong as the base stations!).
Sporadic E is great fun in the summer and you can work stations running almost no power and not much of an antenna. Make hay from May to September, and possibly a little in November/December because the rest of the year could be quite bare!
I have tuned for months without hearing a signal on 6m. This is where the dx cluster comes into it’s own. It’s like having a few thousand ears all tuning around at the same time. With that many listening there won’t be many openings that don’t get reported. I have the cluster running most of the time, if I am at the radio or not. As soon as I see/hear spots for 6, come up I check out where they are from. If they are from the near continent then chances are we will get an opening sometime soon, but if they are spots from much further afield there isn’t too much point in getting excited! This can of course change given the right circumstances.
In the Autumn (Fall) months real dx can sometimes be heard. A couple of years ago when we were at the sunspot peak (the second one of this cycle), the MUF rose high enough to allow signals from North America to propagate into Europe. The signal strengths at times were incredible. VE1YX amongst others were well over s9, in fact I think the best signal I heard from North America peaked to nearly 50dB over s9, which is incredibly strong given that my Icom meter is rather mean! Using just 3 watts I made many QSO’s into Canada and the USA. Other notable contacts from my log over the past 3 years have been into Venezuela, Aruba, Brazil, Zambia and the Lebanon. Now if only I had a 5 element beam and 25 watts! I only need Oceania for my WAC on 6m, but I think that may have to wait until the next solar peak in a few years time! If conditions are good around October, there is the chance of paths to North America etc. opening up (although at this stage of the cycle it is more likely to be via multi hop Es than F2, as F2 requires consistently high Solar flux for a period of time before propagation is likely. We live in hope and will be watching the...
Click the thumbnails below to see full size images of where I have managed to hear on 6m using just a single element antenna (these are a little out of date now - I will update them after the 2011 Es season has quietend down). Use the back arrow on your browser to return here.
6m QRA locator Squares heard: 515 in 105 DXCC
I have now achieved DXCC on 6m - in May 2010 - ST2AR (Sudan) gave me the last country I needed!
SOME OF THE COUNTRIES HEARD ON 6M DURING 2006:
AALAND ISL.; AFRICAN ITALY; ALGERIA; ARUBA; AUSTRIA; AZORES; BALEARIC ISL; BELGIUM; BERMUDA; BOSNIA; BULGARIA; CANADA; CANARY ISL.; CORSICA; CRETE; CROATIA; CUBA; CYPRUS; CZECH REP; DENMARK; DOMINICAN REPUBLIC; EIRE; ENGLAND; ESTONIA; FAEROE ISL; FINLAND; FRANCE; GERMANY; GIBRALTAR; GREECE; GREENLAND; GUADELOUPE; GUERNSEY; HUNGARY; ICELAND; ISRAEL; ITALY; JAN MAYEN; LATVIA; LEBANON; LIECHTENSTEIN; LITHUANIA; MALTA; MARTINIQUE; MAURITANIA; MONACO; MONTENEGRO; MOROCCO; NETHERLANDS; NORTHERN IRELAND; NORWAY; POLAND; PORTUGAL; PUERTO RICO; ROMANIA; SAN MARINO; SARDINIA; SCOTLAND; SERBIA; SHETLAND ISLANDS (WAE); SICILY (WAE); SLOVAK REP; SLOVENIA; SPAIN; SPANISH NORTH AFRICA; ST KITTS; SVALBARD; SWEDEN; SWITZERLAND; TAJIKISTAN; TRINIDAD; TURKEY; TURKS AND CAICOS; UK BASES IN CYPRUS; UKRAINE; US VIRGIN ISLANDS; USA; VATICAN; VENEZUELA; WALES
TOTAL: 82. I must stress that this includes beacons (where there may not be any active operators at the time I heard them, such as JW). Countries with WAE after them are “Worked all Europe” countries and are not official DXCC countries (or rather entities, but I don’t like that terminology!). Even so, that still leaves 80 ‘proper’ countries heard so far (July 06) which I am amazed at considering my antenna is not designed for 6m and is vertical rather than horizontal.
Some of the countries heard in 2010 (so far):
AALAND ISL.; AUSTRIA; BAHRAIN; BALEARIC ISL; BELGIUM; BOSNIA; BULGARIA; CANARY ISL.; CORSICA; CRETE; CROATIA; CYPRUS; CZECH REP; DENMARK; DOMINICAN REPUBLIC; ENGLAND; ESTONIA; FAEROE ISL; FINLAND; FRANCE; GERMANY; GIBRALTAR; HUNGARY; ICELAND; ITALY; JAPAN; LATVIA; LITHUANIA; MALTA; MOROCCO; NETHERLANDS; NORWAY; POLAND; PORTUGAL; PUERTO RICO; QATAR; PALESTINE; RHODES; ROMANIA; SAN MARINO; SARDINIA; SCOTLAND; SERBIA; SHETLAND ISLANDS (WAE); SICILY (WAE); SLOVAK REP; SLOVENIA; SPAIN; SWEDEN; SWITZERLAND; TAJIKSTAN; TURKEY; UK BASES IN CYPRUS; UKRAINE; UZBEKISTAN; WALES
Suggested 6m European operating frequencies:
(lower part of band only shown)
(Frequencies shown in red should be kept clear)
CW Calling Frequency
Reserved for Intercontinental traffic (SSB on/above 50110) - no Eu-Eu etc.
Intercontinental Calling Frequency (CW or SSB), do not use for QSO’s and do not use for calling inter-Europe! Once QSO has been established, QSY to clear frequency as soon as possible.
SSB Calling frequency
Data (50230 is popular for JT6M and 50250 for PSK31/RTTY)
Here are some MP3’s of interesting stations/beacons that I have heard on 6m. I will add more as and when I hear them. All signals here were received using one of the following antennas: Wellbrook ALA1530, 20m OCF dipole or 6m sloping dipole.
Click the name to download/play the file
Some recordings of various 6m stations as heard at G4UCJ from 2010 onwards:
A92IO (Bahrain, CW - 299kb)
KP4EIT (Puerto Rico, SSB - 14kb)
OY1CT (Faroe Isl, CW - 40kb)
OY6BEC (Faroe Isl Beacon - 53kb)
ST2AR (Sudan, CW - 42kb)
ST2AR (Sudan, CW with a large pile up! - 53kb)
SV5BYR (Rhodes Isl, SSB - 45kb)
UK8OM (Uzbekistan, CW - 33kb)
EA8ACW/P (Canary Isl, SSB - 23kb)
A71EM (Oman, CW very weak - 15kb)
HI3TEJ (Dominican Republic, SSB - 48kb)
CN8IG (Morocco, Beacon - 93kb)
JW7SIX (Svalbard, Beacon - 111kb)
OY6SMC (Faroe Islands, Beacon - 69kb)
5B4CY (Cyprus, Beacon - 79kb)
TF8GX (Iceland, ssb - 34kb)
6m Aurora - (CW - 93kb)
5T5DUB (Mauritania, Beacon - 190kb)
FM5WD (Martinique, CW - 119kb)
7X0AD (Algeria, SSB - 218kb)
N3DB (USA, CW - 226kb)
GB3LER (Shetland Isl Beacon - 328kb)
EY8MM (Tajikistan - 3200kb) - large file (3 MB), not edited yet.
WP4U (Puerto Rico - 280kb)
9Y4AT (Trinidad, Beacon - 798kb)
HI3TEJ (Dominican Republic, SSB - 174kB)
P43JB (Aruba, CW - 654kb)
K1TOL (USA, SSB - 158kb)
4X4DK (Israel, CW - 50kb)
5B4AIF (Cyprus, SSB - 168kb)
5B8AD (Cyprus, CW - 69kb)
5C12M (Morocco, CW - 63kb)
7X2VX (Algeria, SSB - 75kb)
CR3L (Madeira Isl, SSB, loud - 167kb)
E4X (Palestine, CW, very weak - 74kb)
EA8AAW (Canary Isl, SSB - 43kb)
EI9E/P (Eire, SSB - 109kb)
FG5FR (Guadeloupe Isl, CW - 206kb)
HV0A (Vatican City, SSB - 86kb)
K1IM (USA, CW - 150kb)
KB4CRT (Puerto Rico, SSB - 153kb)
OY6FRA (Faroe Isl, SSB, strong - 80kb)
PJ6D (Saba Isl, CW - 167kb)
SV9CVY (Crete Isl, SSB - 80kB) Not 100% sure of callsign!
TF3ML (Iceland, SSB - 69kb)
VO1BC (Canada, SSB - 484kb)
VO1SO (Canada, SSB - 514kb)
W1JJ (USA, CW - 135kb)
Download a text file of 6m Beacons throughout the world (G3USF) (27kb) as of May 2010